Wang C, Armstrong SM, Sugiyama MG, Tabuchi A, Krauszman A, Kuebler WM, Mullen B, Advani S, Advani A, Lee WL. Influenza Primes Human Lung Microvascular Endothelium to Leak upon Exposure to Staphylococcus aureus. Am J Respir Cell Mol Biol. 2015 Oct;53(4):459-70.




A major cause of death after influenza virus infection is lung injury due to a bacterial superinfection, yet the mechanism is unknown. Death has been attributed to virus-induced immunosuppression and bacterial overgrowth, but this hypothesis is based on data from the preantibiotic era and animal models that omit antimicrobial therapy. Because of diagnostic uncertainty, most patients with influenza receive antibiotics, making bacterial overgrowth unlikely. Respiratory failure after superinfection presents as acute respiratory distress syndrome, a disorder characterized by lung microvascular leak and edema. The objective of this study was to determine whether the influenza virus sensitizes the lung endothelium to leak upon exposure to circulating bacterial-derived molecular patterns from Staphylococcus aureus. In vitro as well as in vivo models of influenza followed by S. aureus superinfection were used. Molecular mechanisms were explored using molecular biology, knockout mice, and human autopsy specimens. Influenza virus infection sensitized human lung endothelium to leak when challenged with S. aureus, even at low doses of influenza and even when the pathogens were given days apart. Influenza virus increased endothelial expression of TNFR1 both in vitro and in intact lungs, a finding corroborated by human autopsy specimens of patients with influenza. Leak was recapitulated with protein A, a TNFR1 ligand, and sequential infection caused protein A-dependent loss of IκB, cleavage of caspases 8 and 3, and lung endothelial apoptosis. Mice infected sequentially with influenza virus and S. aureus developed significantly increased lung edema that was protein A and TNFR1 dependent. Influenza virus primes the lung endothelium to leak, predisposing patients to acute respiratory distress syndrome upon exposure to S. aureus.